Selwyn selects project architect

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Selwyn College Preparatory School has a meeting Tuesday to introduce Gary Cunningham of Cunningham Architects, which was chosen to design the new main school building, which will replace the structure that was lost in a fire last year.
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Dallas-based Cunningham Architects has been selected to design and oversee construction of the next building project at Selwyn College Preparatory School.

An estimated 50 students, alumni, parents and staff attended a meeting Tuesday where the announcement was made, and they had an opportunity to meet and question representatives of Cunningham Architects.

More than a year after fire destroyed the school’s main building, which housed kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms, administrative offices and the kitchen, the school’s intent is to replace kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms and construct a building for early childhood education by fall 2014, said Monte Jensen, board chairman. The budget for the project is expected to range from between $1.5 million and $2 million, and a $1.6 million insurance settlement for building replacement is expected to be used for the project, he said.

“The focus of what we do here is always about our kids and always about education first and foremost,” Jensen said Tuesday. “It’s what we do. It’s why we exist. It’s the only reason we exist.”

The school began its search for an architect last year.

Peter Doncaster, a Dallas architect, Selwyn alumnus and son of the school’s founder and former headmaster, John Doncaster, assisted the school in compiling a list of 19 firms to consider for the building project. Of the 19 firms, seven were invited for campus tours and to interview with school officials and building committee members.

“It’s been an intensive process. It’s been an exciting process,” Jensen said. “In the end, we know we came to the right decision. The firms that Peter lined up were a who’s who of Dallas architects. By the time we got to the nitty-gritty, we couldn’t have made a bad choice.”

Jensen said what stood out about Cunningham Architects was the firm’s previous work and that they understood Selwyn’s strengths and opportunities.

“They have the best overall, well-rounded view of who we are,” he said.

Jensen said the partnership with Cunningham Architects is the “beginning of a long-term relationship” that will involve constructing facilities that will last more than 50 years, such as the original main building destroyed by fire, and creating a master plan that leads Selwyn into the future.

“This isn’t just build one building, fix it and leave it and forget about it,” Jensen said.

Cunningham Architects was founded in 1981. In more than 30 years, the firm has been involved with facilities including office buildings, churches, private residences, apartment complexes and schools.

Gary Cunningham, the firm’s founder and president, shared examples of the firm’s previous projects with people attending Tuesday’s meeting. He said he’s excited to be involved with Selwyn and that his firm likes to work with projects that have a strong history and promising future like Selwyn’s does.

Other things of importance to his firm, Cunningham said, includes the importance of respecting the history of a facility, bringing in natural light, implementing sustainable features and getting an idea of what’s important to the client.

“The cultural and social aspects of the client really are what drives us,” Cunningham said. “The buildings, to me, things happen out of our understanding, what y’all teach us about your children and about what’s important to Selwyn, and that’s where the goodness will come from.

“It’s not about what it’s going to look like to me ... but how it’s going to feed the children’s psyche and how we’re going to raise them up to be important citizens.”

Jensen said architects will begin having interviews with the school staff and board to come up with a needs assessment. From there, the board will meet with architects to listen to recommendations and what direction to take based on options given.

School officials have said they’re looking to construct a replacement building in a space approximately 8,000 to 10,000 square feet with plans for additional facilities to be phased in when funding is available.

Parents and school staff who attended Tuesday’s meeting said they’re excited about the school’s future. They say they also enjoyed the discussion of implementing sustainable features and incorporating school history into new modern projects.

“I’m glad that we are able to take the next steps and not only get back to where we were but make it even better,” said Lisa Biles, head of the lower school and a fourth-grade teacher. “It looks very exciting. They’ve touched on a lot of the things that we are looking for, and I’m very excited to see what they’re going to do with our hopes.”

Karen Morris, head of the school, said she’s excited about the school’s future.

“I feel like we are already offering superb academics, and the new building will allow us to expand and do what we do best and that is to educate the children of Denton,” she said.

BRITNEY TABOR can be reached at 940-566-6876 and via Twitter at @BritneyTabor.


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